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The Businessman and the Fisherman — Wealth Comes from Contentment

Updated: Dec 3, 2021

A wealthy businessman was walking along the beach when he was horrified to see a fisherman lying lazily in his boat.

"Why aren't you out fishing? There's still lots of time in the day to catch more fish!" said the businessman.

"Because I caught enough fish today. After I enjoy this sun for a bit, I'm going to go back home and play with the kids. Then at night, my family is going to meet up with friends to sing and dance." replied the fisherman.

"As a wealthy and successful businessman, I advise you to go out there and catch more fish."

"What would I do with them?"

"You could earn more money," said the businessman. "Then with the extra money, you could buy a bigger boat, go into deeper waters, and catch more fish. Then you would make enough money to buy nylon nets. With the nets, you could catch even more fish and make even more money. With that money you could own two boats, maybe three boats. Eventually you could have a whole fleet of boats and be rich like me."

"Then what would I do?" asked the fisherman.

"Then," said the businessman, "you could really enjoy life."

The fisherman looked at the businessman quizzically and asked, "What do you think I'm doing now?"


After hearing this story, I asked myself, "Am I more like the fisherman or the businessman right now?" In the past, I was definitely more like the businessman. But now I've learned, with much practice, to appreciate and be content with all that I have. Although the businessman has lots of money, it's the fisherman that lives the wealthy life, a life of freedom and happiness.

There is a Chinese proverb that says "wealth lies in knowing contentment" (富在知足). If a person has a habit of always wanting more and of not being content with what one already has, then that person will live a life of misery. Only when we can be content with what we already have can be feel free and happy.

Some might wonder, does this mean I shouldn't have any ambition to improve my situation? Of course not! But while we work to improve our situation, we should also learn to cultivate contentment and gratitude towards our current situation.

Others might wonder, is it bad to seek wealth then? Well, it depends on your purpose for seeking wealth. If it's just for your own personal pleasure, then your life will turn out pretty miserable. As Seneca said,

"It is inevitable that life will be not just very short but very miserable for those who acquire by great toil what they must keep by greater toil."

But if your purpose for seeking wealth is to benefit the whole society or world, then that is a noble purpose that will bring you a sense of happiness, purpose, and determination. As Jane Goodall said,

"We all need money to live but it tends to go wrong when we live for money... Unless we live for money in order to make the world better for animals, people, and the environment."

Out of all the people I know, the happiest person I can think of is my grandma. She often tells me contentment is the key to happiness, and she walks the talk. She has very simple living quarters, she eats simple food, she has simple clothes, but everyone knows her for her big smile and zeal for life. She also tells me that giving is the greatest joy. Whenever she goes out for a meal with friends, she treats them. She is not rich by any means, but she is extremely content with what she has, and she is happy to give away what she has. She may not be materially wealthy, but she lives a wealthy life: her days are filled with simplicity, laughter, and good people.


Do I have the same problem as the deluded businessman? Can I emulate the contented fisherman?


Weekly Wisdom #160

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